Society made Slaves out of Women, and Monsters out of Men

Martha Eaton- … I asked her if her Husband had been beating her? She said, yes, – he had been beating her in the Garden. I said it was a cruel Thing to beat a Woman so. Aye, says she, – I have been married above forty Years, and have had seventeen Children.

Susannah Broom was a woman from the eighteenth century, who like many other women from this era married a man who was abusive. Susannah’s, neighbors and friends over heard her fights with Mr. Broom for many years; they even witnessed her bruised and bloodied body.  But what none of them could have predicted was that after 40 years of his abuse, and at the age of 67, Susannah would murder her husband, Mr. Broom.

In December of 1739, Susannah was taken to court because she was accused of the murder of her husband. Ten of her neighbors came to the court hearing to discuss the accusation.  Susannah was not allowed to defend herself, or to speak on her own behalf; she was allowed a few one line sentences and nothing else during the trial. Susannah was not a violent or murderous woman, nor was she abusive to her husband or disobedient of his rules.  However, after much discussion from her neighbors, and little from herself, she was found guilty of the murder, and was sentenced to death by burning on the stake in Tyburn.

In Susannah’s era women were often stuck in a cycle of slavery which often led to death.  Women in the eighteenth century, like Susannah, were rarely allowed to have an education, job, or life in society. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, describes perfectly what Susannah’s life would have been like. Like Mary in the “Vindication,” if Susannah had not married Mr. Broom then she would have had to turn to prostitution, stealing, and begging to make a living in society; all of which ended in death.  If you were caught prostituting, could have gotten into trouble for committing adultery on another woman’s husband and sentenced to death. If you were a woman and you stole you were sentenced to death.  And if you ended up having to beg for a living then you would often starve to death because men had most of the control over money and they would rarely give any to a begging woman. Susannah was alone in the world, and she turned to Mr. Broom for support; she had to marry him for the sense of security in society. Often women were pushed to get married because there really was no other way out of the cycle of death that society created, however they were often unhappy in their marriages.

A Marriage in the eighteenth century was not like the marriages we see today, Anne Mellor says in her article (1) Righting the Wrongs of Women that laws stated, once a man and woman were married, “[a] man and wife [became] one person in law; the wife los[t] all rights as a single woman, and her existence [was] entirely absorbed in that of her husband.”  Yet, women married because without a man they had no place in society. Susannah Broom got married probably thinking she would be better off in her marriage than trying to make it in society. But what she probably didn’t see coming was that there were also laws allowing her husband to beat her not only to steal her identity, but also to beat her. This was not always the case but for many women it was; they would marry in order to survive the cruel society they lived in, and the men married to inherit whatever the woman had to offer, and to assume the right to take the woman’s identity and beat her. Wendy Moore states in her article, 18th Century Domestic Violence, that “[m]arital violence is as old as marriage itself. In Georgian England, husbands were legally entitled to strike their wives in order to ‘correct’ their conduct so long as moderation was the watchword. One judge, Francis Buller, even went so far as to specify that a husband could beat his wife with a stick so long as it was no thicker than his thumb, earning himself the nickname ‘Judge Thumb’ in satirical prints for his wisdom.” You might ask, well why did women get married in the eighteenth century if they knew that the man could own AND abuse them. Tricky question, but like I said before, women were not given a chance in society unless they had husbands, and they were willing to suffer the beating their husbands would give them, rather than die in a society that did much worse to them.

Like many women in the eighteenth century, Susannah did not seem to have had a choice as to whether or not she should murder her husband. First she was forced into an unhappy marriage because of the way society was at the time. Then she was beaten for over 40 years, while her neighbors knew she was being beaten, they could not step in and help.  Society would have punished them too. These three horrifying aspects of Susannah’s life can be observed in her trial as evidence that Susannah was not a plotting murderess but rather a woman who felt trapped by the world around her, and her only escape was to end her husband’s life, and in turn her own.

Mary Coombes, a neighbor to the Broom’s, said in her part of the trial that on the night of the murder, Mr. Broom was out drinking most of the night. When he returned home Susannah had locked him out. Mary said she heard him ask Susannah to let him in because he was freezing, and she refused. Mary also noted that this happened a lot, where Mr. Broom would leave and when he would return he would almost always be locked out. I can only assume that the reason Susannah locked him out was for fear of his drunken return, and probable abuse. Mary Eaton, a neighbor and friend to Susannah, stated that on the morning after the murder, “The Prisoner came that Morning to my Shop about Three o’clock, for a Farthing Candle: Her Arms and Face were all over Blood, and likewise the Round of her Head. I asked her if her Husband had been beating her? She said, yes.” I believe Susannah was trying to catch the attention of her neighbors and friends by walking the streets bruised and bloody.  I also believe she caused scenes with Mr. Broom because she wanted the neighbors to step in, and tell him to stop. However, because of the law that stated that Mr. Broom was allowed to beat her, no one could have saved her from her ultimate fate.

Susannah was not a bad woman, or a bad wife, and she did not want to kill her husband. She was just like the majority of women from the eighteenth century; she was born into a society with few women’s rights, and most odds against her. Because of the events that occurred in Susannah’s life, she was almost forced to kill her husband. She felt trapped because without a husband she wouldn’t have been able to make it in society, but she was being beaten badly, and every time she tried to get rid of him he kept coming back very drunk and more angry than before. When she finally let him back inside the house, and he began to beat her, she made her final decision. She took out her pen knife, and stabbed his legs, chest, and stomach in a rage she could not stop. And at the age of 67 she was finally free. Most of her neighbors claim to have heard Mr. Broom’s cries of murder, but none of them tried to stop her. That may have been their way of apologizing for letting her be beaten for so many years. The following morning, after the murder, Susannah fled to Burford, Oxfordshire for three months of an abuse free life with her sister. Sadly, she was found and taken to court. Where neither she, nor any of her neighbors or friends were allowed to defend her. In the end she was found guilty and sentenced to burn on the stake in Tyburn, on December 21, 1739.

1 Mellor, Anne K. “Righting the Wrongs of Woman: Mary Wollstonecraft’s.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 19.4 (1996): 413-24. Print.


The Poisoned Heart

It was May 26th, 1762 when Jane Sibson was on trial at the Old Bailey. Mrs. Sibson was accused of murdering her husband George Sibson by spreading butter onto bread laced with white mercury. The apothecary treating her husband, John Tyrrell, founded an argument based with no substantiated facts that Jane Sibson committed petty treason. He brought the charges to the authorities after assisting in an autopsy on the late Mr. Sibson’s body. Tyrrell’s accusations were aided by suspicions of the deceased’s brother, Robert Sibson, who believed his brother George met with an untimely death after Mr. Tyrrell overheard the maid say that Mrs. Sibson had enough poison brought from London to kill forty people.

John Tyrrell’s accusation and self-permissible evidence displayed, in his mind, justifiable probability that there had, in fact, been foul play in Mr. Sibson’s death. Tyrrell, with the support of Robert Sibson, performed an autopsy and found that, in his opinion, the presence of poison was evident and pointed his finger at the deceased’s wife. The brother supported the claim, indirectly, because of the fact that poison was present, in Jane’s possession, which led him to become suspicious of the manner in which his brother died.

During the trial, Jane Sibson was proven to be a loving and dedicated wife. She was distraught at her husband’s illness and only sought to have him treated and cured. Leading up to his untimely demise, she spoke of an agreement the two of them made where, should either of them pass, they would embalm the others heart to keep. She also, having procured opium from America, thought to take her own life in order to be buried with her husband rather than live on without him. She was an honest and caring wife, doing what any concerned spouse would do for her husband. Furthermore, when everyone around her was questioned, from friends and acquaintances to her maid, George and Jane Sibson were viewed as star-crossed lovers.

I believe that their agreement to take the others heart should the other pass-on may have rested on the belief held by some in the eighteenth century that ones heart was the vessel of ones soul. This action was meant to be symbolic of their deeply seated bond and ever-lasting love; a soul-mate keeping their partner’s soul as a token of undying affection. As if inspired by William Shakespeare, Jane was even willing to take her own life rather than live without her beloved George. She was a proverbial Juliet to her Romeo.

Circumstantially, it was proven and supported that Jane Sibson frequently requested of Mr. Tyrrell, as the acting care-taker, should her husband be in need, they should call in other physicians to treat him. They could also offer additional opinions regarding the cause and treatment of his illness. At every turn Tyrrell deemed it unnecessary and stated that George Sibson would get better with food, drink and good spirits. Mrs. Sibson, along with her mother who was present, continuously stated that Mr. Sibson was taken with consumption, but Mr. Tyrrell continuously denied the fact. Finally, discarding Mr. Tyrrell’s advice, Jane Sibson called on a physician, but it was too late and her husband died shortly thereafter. After the fact, Mr. Tyrrell’s own testimony was found to be inconsistent and conveniently full of areas that he, himself, could not even recall.

Thus, in defense of Jane Sibson, the courts acquitted her of the unfounded charges and convicted John Tyrrell in suspicion of his own, seemingly, nefarious plans. As if George and Jane Sibson were cast as Romeo and Juliet, John Tyrrell cast himself into the role of the villain in this story. If Jane and George Sibson are part of an 18th century Shakespearean tragedy, then I believe Tyrrell has cast himself into the role of Othello’s Iago. His unexplained actions and misleading testimony paved the way to his own trial and subsequent demise.

On September 17th, 1762, John Tyrrell was held in front of a jury for perjury in the case against Jane Sibson, for the murder of her husband George. In the trial, Tyrrell’s previous testimony and actions were once again, in question regarding the events leading up to Mr. Sibson’s untimely demise and his actions and accusations against Mrs. Sibson.

The facts stood that many of Tyrrell’s statements were proven fraudulent or that he simply and rather conveniently, could not remember pertinent details regarding his own actions. In the trail against Jane Sibson, these ideas were brought to light, which prompted Mrs. Sibson’s immediate acquittal. Carrying on into his own trial, everything was reiterated and proven again. John Tyrrell, for his own reasons, lied, misled or manipulated persons or details to take Mr. Sibson’s illness, then death and turn it into a murder, implicating the deceased’s own wife.

The facts were that, while handling the case, Tyrrell lacked the knowledge and ability to correctly diagnose Mr. Sibson’s condition. Then, once physicians came to their own diagnosis, he manipulated circumstance with insufficient evidence so he could perform an autopsy. During the autopsy, he was joyful and exuberant at, what he deemed, implicative evidence of poisoning that simultaneously denied a death by consumption, which would have made his diagnosis correct throughout his treatment of Mr. Sibson. Tyrrell denied such actions, but the three others who partook in the autopsy iterated that he was in fact overly excited. His actions continue to perplex the others when he exclaimed that he would take this information to the Old Bailey as quoted in the trail, “Mr. Tyrrell pronounced with a joyful countenance, A brave inflammation, gentlemen! A brave inflammation, Mr. Howard!” after which he continued in his joyous demeanor to say, “Come, you rogue, look at this inflammation; you shall go along with us to the Old Bailey”. At the end of the autopsy, all attending physicians and Mr. Tyrrell signed a certificate stating that they unanimously found no evidence of poisoning, but Tyrrell obviously changed his opinion and brought the case forward regardless. The apothecary was found guilty of perjury but due to his “good character”, the jury recommended him to all the mercy his case would bear.

Now the question that plagues my mind is, why? Why would Mr. Tyrrell a man of good character with no previous record of any mis-doings so vehemently have to find Jane Sibson guilty of poisoning her husband? She was gaining no additional wealth with his death, since it was proven that she was in fact the richer of the two. Mrs. Sibson was not forced into the marriage, nor was she unhappily married to him. Neither case asks Mr. Tyrrell why he would lie about the poison so we are left with attempting to answer for his actions over 200 years later. Perhaps it was simply a misdiagnosis which left his pride and practice wounded thus his elation at being able to find a reason for Mr. Sibson’s death that was out of his control. Or since the act of dissecting a human being was still a fairly new and exciting concept to many in the medical world, perhaps Mr. Tyrrell was hoping for a chance to perform one himself. This excitement at the ability to see into the human body would explain his elated behaviour while being present during the autopsy:

“I begged of him to lay the stomach down, and behave with decency, and desired him to examine the lungs. Said he, I’ll oblige you, and examine them. There appeared a little place of redness; whether Mr. Tyrrell saw it, or not, I can’t say, but he immediately laid it down, and said, I will not inspect the body any longer, and went to the other side of the room, and began to undress. I spoke to the undertaker, and desired him to see that no gentleman went out till I had intirely inspected the body myself.”

Maybe it was a grievous mistake done by an under educated apothecary who, unable to correctly diagnose a patient with consumption, is once again unable to see the signs of consumption found on Mr. Sibson’s lungs after his death.

Yet, neither excitement at being witness to the opening of a body to determine reason of death, nor a misdiagnosis, seems to answer this question: Why blame Jane Sibson for her husbands death? I believe that Mr. Tyrrell was neither a man of good character nor worthy of the mercy bestowed upon him by the Old Bailey court. Mr. Tyrrell was a vindictive man with a poisonous heart, who was unable to believe that the love between Jane and her husband was true and pure. Tyrrell was instead looking for clues to implicate Jane of murdering her husband with poison, since he believed that no woman would think of taking her own life if her husband were to perish. This trial is one of many where true love is brought into question before the court and luckily for Jane Sibson there were many who believed her love for George to be true and un-poisoned, unlike the heart of John Tyrrell.

All information and quotes mentioned are taken from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey: Jane Sibson, Killing > petty treason, 26th May 1762.

A Bridge to Nowhere.

Thomas Bridge needed this

I have been meditating a lot on the proceedings of the court case I have chosen on Thomas Bridge and I have come to two conclusions:

1)   Drinking a pint of Gin (no matter what century you are in) is a terrible idea with terrible outcomes.

2)   People still do not know how to use their cutlery properly.

The second point is because I have yet to figure out how to dice onions fast enough to avoid crying like a small child, much like Mr. Bridge could not eat breakfast without stabbing his wife in the chest.

But I digress.

The Thomas Bridge case deals with a lot of witness accounts, to be very precise, 11 different witness accounts on: the scene of the crime, the night of June the 4th, the morning of June the 5th, Elizabeth Bridge and Thomas Bridge himself.  Most of the witnesses consisted of Bridge’s associates, a shop owner, the constable who brought in the prisoner and the coroner who examined Elizabeth Bridge.

Now, each witness account is not so much individually different as…the exact same story with slightly varying details or points of view.

Take for example the account of John Thomas; one of the witnesses who saw Bridge before the morning of the murder. Thomas describes Bridge as being “much in Liquor” which I deduced to mean, “being very drunk”. Again, you may be wondering how this is relevant to the case, besides obscuring one’s sound and moral judgment.  The phrase “being much in Liquor” is relevant because it was repeated not once, not twice, not thrice but 7 times (twice by Sarah Miller) to describe Bridge’s demeanor.

I take suspect to this little detail for this reason: the judge and jury had to hear 6 different witnesses say that Thomas Bridge “was much in the Liquor” 7 different times in order to determine that yes, he was a bit drunk. I understand that these court proceedings were quite thorough in the 18th century but to study this case in GREAT detail I have figured out what details are important to the case and what details are relevant but do not need to be repeated 7 TIMES. Really though the last witness, Sarah Miller had to reiterated this fact specifically, when asked how Thomas Bridge was acting “Very brisk; – but he was in Liquor”.

Which brings me to my next point: Thomas Bridge’s defense. This, has to be, the worst drunken explanation of how someone “accidentally” murdered they’re wife I have ever read. The worst part is, Bridge sticks with this story when he defends himself on the stand and I am fairly certain that you aren’t allowed to be drunk in court even in the 18th century.

Bridge’s first account was retold by John Wilsted (witness); the first of the witnesses to see John after the murder and hear his story.

“The Prisoner, on the 5th of June, came to me, and told me, that his Wife was murdered, and that he had stabbed her in the Breast with a Knife, and that she was dead. I asked him if his Wife was dead? He said yes, and lay dead on the Floor.”

Right at the very beginning of the story, he admits to Wilsted that he murdered his wife and told Wilsted what he did in details…and then continues.

“He told me, he was eating a Piece of Bread and Cheese, and held his Knife against his Breast; with the Point outwards, and she flew at him in a violent Passion, and stabbed the Knife into her Breast.”

For the sake of clarification, Bridge confessed to eating his breakfast while his wife ran herself through on his knife. If it wasn’t for the fact that this case is accessible through the Old Bailey website I would not believe that any human being could possible make up a story like Bridge’s story; let alone present it in front of a judge and jury.  Of course it is more extraordinary that Bridge’s sticks to his alcohol inspired story in court and more incredible that he expects people to believe it.

And who eats like that?

With the Thomas Bridge case, the sense of unnecessary repetition and over zealous attention to detail is overwhelming. I find myself both amused and angry because of how obvious the evidence points to Thomas being the murderer. Which causes me to pause…

What I think I have to understand is the context in which Bridge’s case falls under and I think context gives way to better understanding what I may deem as an excruciating and needless attention to a man who is clearly the guilty.  I think about what I know about the role of women in the 18th century, and I think about how a judge and jury may view the murder of a woman in comparison to say the murder of a man or a child. 18th century women were, in essence, property of the men they were tied to; whether they were their fathers, brother or husbands essentially women were just another piece of property to be sold, bought, traded or exchanged.

This changes the flavor of the whole court proceedings. Instead of being a really annoying tedious bureaucratic process it is now a really REALLY annoying bureaucratic process. The Thomas Bridge case seems more like an excuse to draw out the fact that the Bridge was obvious a drunk, obviously not very bright and obviously someone who is guilty but yet the judge, jury and the court found different ways to draw out the proceedings to, give Bridge an out?

If you read the proceedings in close details, you can almost visualize the faces of each witness as they say repeatedly things like “I am sorry I  don’t have so much to say against him” (George Reader) and “I never heard any Ill of either of them” (John Thomas) that give Thomas Bridge a sort of sensible demeanour except that we have just heard their accounts on what a drunk Bridge is. I think this is the most infuriating and ridiculous detail about the entire court proceedings; they are looking for an excuse to let him of the hook. It is hard for me, a 21st century man, with the weight of my present perspective to read the Bridge case with the historical context behind it but this case (no matter what century) is open and shut.

And do you know what detail tip the scales for the judge and jury to find Bridge guilty? The one thing they could not let slip?

“After my Wife had received the Wound, she fell from me; I withdrew the Knife, and put it into the Sheath, and clapp’d it into the Bosom of my Waistcoat.” (Thomas Bridge)

“One would think it more natural for the Prisoner to have dropp’d the Knife, after the Accident, than to have put it first into the Sheath, and then into his Bosom.” (Jury)

“It was as quickly put there as any where.” (Bridge)

It wasn’t the ridiculous story, it wasn’t that many of the witnesses saw how drunk Bridge was, it wasn’t the obvious blood that drenched Bridge’s body and clothing or that he changed out of the bloody clothing or that no one eats with their knife resting on their chest (point out) as they eat. No they thought it was ridiculous that a man would sheath his knife instead of dropping it on the floor after “accidentally” stabbing their wife. I don’t know whose worse, Bridge or the judge and jury.

Thomas Bridge’s case is on of intrigue because of how RIDICULOUS it is, and not because of the actual crime but because this case had to go through court and God knows how long it actually went on for. It also sheds light on how difficult women in the 18th actually had it when it came to justice and rights. A man who clearly murdered his wife and even ADMITTED to doing so had to stand trial with 11 witnesses saying the exact same thing in order to be found guilty. The real tragedy about the Bridge case is how justice for Elizabeth Bridge came only because of a technicality and not because of the obvious evidence.

I would like to say that we have come a long way from this kind of ridiculousness but the truth is we haven’t.

So boys, next time you decide to eat your breakfast in a new and adventurous way, remember! Women tend to stab themselves randomly and enthusiastically.

Equality in Crime

Joan Phillips was unassumingly born the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Northamptonshire.

Few details are recorded about her early life but, the status of women in the 18th century almost guaranteed that she was destined to unassumingly remain the daughter of a wealthy farmer until she was married off to another wealthy farmer.  She would then live out her days as the unassuming wife of a wealthy farmer.  She was, by all accounts, beautiful and full of cunning but, in a world where the rules worked against her, we likely would never have heard the name Joan Phillips.  Luckily then, Joan decided to push against the rules that held her ambition hostage and, at the first opportunity, she begin to follow a life of crime.  This path, in the 18th century, was one of the few paths where her talents and abilities would make her more successful than any man.

Joan was presented with her first opportunity to jump into a life of crime when she met Edward Bracey.  Bracey planned to seduce her, marry her, and then skip town with the marriage portion.  Edward, the Newgate Calendar reports, “was very agreeably deceived; for Joan was as good as he. She suffered herself to be first debauched by him, and then consented to rob her father, and go along with him on the pad; all which she accordingly accomplished.”  While Newgate uses the word “suffered” Joan doesn’t seem to have suffered anything.  She took to crime quickly and made use of her considerable intelligence to deftly pick up the tools of the trade.  Newgate reports that “They now passed for husband and wife wheresoever they went, frequently robbed together on the highway, and as often united in picking of pockets and shoplifting at all the country fairs and markets round about.”   Three narratives exist on the life of Joan.  First is the Newgate Calendar by George Theodore Wilkinson, the second is A Complete History of the Dives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats of Both Sexes by Captain Alexander Smith, and the third is The History of the Lives and Actions of the Most Famous Highwaymen and Street Robbers by Charles Johnson.  In all three narratives the story of Edward and Joan Bracey starts becoming the story of Joan Bracey after the first or second paragraph.  Edward quickly fades into the background, completely outshone by the intelligent and beautiful girl who took his last name, but never married him.

All three transcripts of the day give most of the credit to Edward for corrupting Joan’s innocence and sending her into a life of crime.  That view just doesn’t give Joan enough credit.  Joan, by staying with Edward, had chosen crime, the one life in 18th century England she could be assured equality in.  Crime, rather than the life of a farmers wife, ensured that her hard work would be directly tied to a reward, her beauty became hers to use instead of someone else’s to own, and her intelligence became an asset rather than a liability.  She became the opposite of Mary Leapor’s words “Too soft for Business and too weak for / pow’r… And wisdom only serves to make her know / The keen Sensation of superior Woe.”  Her life on the highway and in the streets made her hard, strong, and rich instead of sad.

When Joan and Edward had amassed a significant fortune from criminal activities they decided it would be best to “quit their vocation and take to some creditable business, in which they might spend the remainder of their days in quiet, and live comfortably upon what they had acquired by their industry.”  They bought an inn near Bristol and Joan quickly made the business a huge success.  All accounts of Joan’s life say that it was her beauty, wit, and skill as a hostess that drove men to her bar in flocks.  In the words of Charles Johnson, “The beauty and accomplishments of Joan drew many customers to their house, and she was not so indifferent to her own interest as to treat their kindness with indifference.”   Johnson politely dances around the fact that Joan’s criminal life allowed her to efficiently use her beauty and intelligence to separate men from their money while remaining completely out of their reach.  Captain Smith puts it more accurately when he says, “Joan Bracey being a very handsome woman, her beauty brought her a great many guests, who spent a great deal of money to obtain her favour.  But all to no purpose, for though she seemed to give them encouragement…. she gulled them all in the end.”

Crime also gave her great power to shame men who angered her – something she would lack in other 18th century walks of life.  One of these men, Mr. Day, a wealthy Bristol merchant, was so bold as to suggest that as soon as Edward was out of town he would happily spend the night with Joan.  His arrogance at almost assuming that Joan, a girl in a lower class, would love to be his helpless plaything is astonishing.  This attitude, a stark reflection of the male dominated culture in 18th century, is exactly what Joan was avoiding when she made crime her career. Joan, being the opposite of a helpless plaything, surprisingly consented to Mr. Day’s overnight visit and set up a time when Edward would be out of town.  At the appointed time Mr. Day arrived and was led upstairs by a maid.  Here Joan’s wit and cunning took over,

“[The maid] led him to the room appointed, put out the candle on account of mere modesty, and stayed at the door while Mr Day undressed himself… our tractable maid conducted the gallant to a door, which she told him opened into her mistress’s chamber, bid him enter softly, and immediately turned the key upon him. Here Mr Day wandered about to find the bed, and pronounced the name of Mrs Bracey as loud as he dared, that she might give him directions; but no Mrs Bracey answered. He was sufficiently amazed at the oddness of the scene, but was yet more surprised when he tumbled down a pair of stairs against the back door of the house. The contrivance was now plain; he saw that mistress and maid were agreed not only to balk his passion, but to strip him of his clothes also. It was in vain to call and make protestations; he received no other answer than that the back door was only bolted, and he might open if he pleased, and go about his business.  This door opened into a narrow dirty lane, down which the common sewer ran….. Mr Day knew [this] but the terrible pinching cold, and the shame of being discovered if he stayed till broad daylight, made him go out, wade through the mud, and make the best of his way home, where he was heartily laughed at by those friends to whom he told the story.”

The Newgate Calendar shows Mr. Day as more of a sympathetic character unduly cheated by a criminal.  Charles Johnston’s work takes a more favorable approach by saying  “were every nightly intruder served in the same manner, the sacred property of husbands would be more secure.”

Joan’s intelligence and wit were matched only by her ambition.  When an extravagant young landowner came to stay at the inn and got himself in debt to the Bracey’s, Joan masterminded a cunning scheme to entrap the young man and wrestle his massive 1400 pound inheritance (4.2 million in todays Canadian dollars) away from him.  Captain Smith’s work removes all doubt as to Joan’s leadership in the plan:

“‘A pretty spark indeed,’ added [Edward], ‘what should we do with him?  He has no money.’  ‘No,’ said [Joan], ‘but he had £100 a year in good land yet left, which I hope to steal from him with your assistance, in a month’s time.’  ‘A very project indeed,’ said [Edward], ‘but how can you compass it?’  ‘Let him,’ said [Joan], ‘be called up, and see if I effect not that in the round of two or three bottles, whereon I build the whole design.’”

This plan, deftly executed by Joan, came off without a hitch and the two quickly sold the inn and went back to life on the highway.

Eventually, fate caught up with Joan and she was arrested in April of 1685 while robbing a coach.  Crime, even when it finally let her down, still offered her the equality she had always demanded.  She was tried under the name Joan Bracey, a name she had chosen for herself, and although no record of her trial was found, it is easy to see her defiantly gazing around the courtroom or charming the jurors with her wit.  Accounts of her life all agree that she was found guilty and executed but, diverge on her age at the time of death.  Newgate records that she was twenty-nine while Charles Johnson claims that she was just twenty-one.  Edward escaped capture at the time but became reckless and died not long after from a shotgun wound.

Joan became a criminal, not because she was pushed into it or corrupted, but because living outside the rules of a society that put her at a disadvantage offered her a life that wasn’t available anywhere else.  It offered her the chance to be completely equal to her partner, to reach as far as she wanted, and to use her abilities to better herself.  As a more memorable figure then her partner, a successful businesswomen, and an accomplished criminal, Joan lived her short life as anything but unassuming.

The Highwaywoman

Photo Credit

Unconvincing Innocence: The Acquittal of Luston Vaughan

Hesitant to give night free reign over her beloved little blue-green orb, the sun lingered just below the horizon, spraying beams of light and long shadows in equal measure across the land. Twilight is a time of unwinding and reflection, and as the warm August evening laid the way for the coming night, Mary Hunt’s mind ambled through the events of the day, while her feet carried her through the streets of London. On one particularly peaceful stretch of road, Hunt found herself utterly alone, with only her thoughts to keep her company. The sweet scent of unharvested corn tickled her senses, while next to her long rolling waves of shadow emanated from an ocean of cornstalks swaying in the breeze. At ease in the warmth of the summer evening, and lost in the wanderings of her mind, Hunt strolled along unaware that enshrouded in the sea of shadows a solitary predator stood, his weapon unsheathed, waiting for a lone woman to come by and strike his fancy. By the time she saw him, it was already to late, the beast had snatched her with its limbs and pulled her towards its exposed-throbbing-prick. Hunt struggled valiantly, kicking and screaming with all her might. Unfortunately, the brute overpowered her and after what may have been two minutes or thirty – it is difficult to judge time when ones life is threatened and every second feels like an eternity – the fiend managed to push Hunt into the cornfield at which point he viciously shoved her to the ground, grabbed her throat, pulled up her petticoats, and raped her.

Mary Hunt’s account of the time that she was sexually assaulted was horrifying, and the last thing that I want to do is belittle the traumatic experience that she was forced to endure, by presenting it as nothing more than one of many similar cases. However, after reading the testimony of several other women – who like Hunt, stood before the Judges and Jurymen of the Old Bailey courthouse claiming to be rape victims – I could not help but recognize a pattern. A pattern which I believe can be used to help illuminate the fact that after being assaulted and raped, Hunt (along with many other women) suffered a further injustice at the hands of the the completely male dominated courthouse. Throughout this brief discourse, I will argue that Luston Vaughan was acquitted of the rape charges made against him, not because there was convincing testimony offered to suggest that he was innocent, but rather, that he was acquitted because the members of the court unjustly held the testimony of women – which included the testimony presented by Mary Hunt– in ill repute.

From the time that the Old Bailey courthouse opened in 1674 until the end of the seventeenth century, 303 women stood before the judges and jury of the court professing to be the victims of rape. In 60 of of the 303 cases presented to the court the defendant was found guilty, in the other 243 cases the defendant was acquitted of all charges. In other words, just over 80 percent of the men on trial for rape were found innocent. It is worth noting that in a time before forensics became the remarkably accurate science that it is today, rape trails almost always amounted to little more than a contest between the words of the alleged victim and the words of the accused. This means that between 1674 and 1799, if a woman stood before the judges and jury of the Old Bailey courthouse claiming to be a rape victim, more than 80 percent of the time the court would discount her as a liar and take the word of the accused male. When figures like these are presented, one cannot help but wonder how many other women, after being victimized by rape, chose not to press charges because they knew that they had less than a 20 percent chance of receiving any sort of retribution.

Although the aforementioned figures strongly suggests that gender discrimination played a key role in determining the verdicts of the rape trails that took place at the Old Bailey courthouse between 1674 and 1799, until “said” figures are attached to concrete examples of gender discrimination they are only educated speculations. By drawing specific examples of gender discrimination from the trial of Mary Hunt, I will add depth and validity to my analysis of the data that I have already provided on the Old Bailey rape trails.

On a night when ale is flowing and tongues are loosened, it is not uncommon for men to share with one another tales of their past sexual conquests. When men tell stories of how they seduced various women, they often win the cheers and praise of their peers. Unfortunately, while for men sexual promiscuity is usually a pathway to praise and glory, for women sexual promiscuity has been and still is more often than not a fast track to becoming known as an undignified slut. In other words, there is a double standard in which men are encouraged to boast about their sex lives, while women are forced to pretend that they do not have sex lives.

When reading the trial of Luston Vaughan, it quickly becomes obvious that Hunt was discriminated against because the completely male dominated courthouse endorsed the aforementioned double standard. Although Vaughan was on trial for raping Hunt, there was not a single point throughout the entire case in which the prosecution deemed it necessary to make any enquires about Vaughan’s sexual past. However, the prosecution* deemed it necessary to uncover essentially every detail about Hunt’s sexual past. After the Prosecuting Attorney accused Hunt – without evidence – of having had sexual relations with a convicted felon, he went on to further sully her reputation by illuminating the fact that Hunt had once been evicted from a building that she had been living in. Although he was unsure of the circumstances that led to Hunt’s eviction, the Prosecutor had no doubt that it was because Hunt had done something terrible. However, Rather than asking Hunt what she had done to get evicted, the Prosecutor began guessing out loud, “did not he [the Parish Officer] say he would take you up as a common street walker.” After Hunt replied no to this question, the Prosecutor asked her if she was evicted “as a common nuisance to the neighbourhood.” To this second question, Hunt also answered no. According to Hunt, the Parish Officer evicted her because she thwarted his sexual advances. By wildly guessing out loud about the reason that Hunt had been evicted from her building, the attorney imbued the jury with negative, unfounded notions about Hunt’s sex life. Although the aforementioned slanderous allegations were irrelevant to the case, and should have had no bearing whatsoever on the verdict of the trial, they almost certainly did negatively impact Hunt’s credibility in the eyes of the Jurymen. The fact that Hunt’s sex life was scrutinized and unjustly defiled by the prosecution, while Vaughan – the defendant in a rape trial – was not requested to disclose any information about his own sex life, is proof of a double standard. Women with sex lives – even if they were merely fictional sex lives created by the prosecution – could be and often were disregarded by the jury as being nothing more than untrustworthy sluts. The sex lives of men, on the other hand, no matter how potentially incriminating they might be, were more often than not dismissed as being completely irrelevant. In essence, women were penalized for being women.

Much like today, during the eighteenth century when men sat around tables in various alehouses boasting about their past sexual endeavours, they grew comfortable and proficient in sexual discourse. Women living in eighteenth century London, on the other hand, were forced to repress their sexuality, so as to avoid being deemed sluts. Under such circumstances it would have been unreasonable to expect women to be comfortable or proficient when discussing sexual matters. However, at the Old Bailey courthouse, women were penalized for not being as fluent as men in sexual discourse. This form of discrimination was evident in Hunt’s trial against Vaughan. When Hunt gave her account of the time that she was raped, she explained that when Vaughan had attacked her, his penis was hanging out of his pants. However, rather than explicitly saying that the defendant attacked her with his penis out, Hunt said, “what he had, he had out.” When discussing the male genitalia, Hunt was so uncomfortable that she would not refer to it by its proper name. Despite the fact – or perhaps in lieu of the fact – that it was quite apparent that Hunt was uncomfortable discussing the sexual details of the time that she was raped, the Prosecuting Attorney unsympathetically badgered her with questions about specific, irrelevant details of the time she was Raped. The following conversation between the Prosecuting Attorney and Hunt exemplifies the way in which the Prosecutor attempted to make Hunt uncomfortable with irrelevant questions.

Were his breeches quite unbuttoned when you first came up to him? – What I told you before is the truth, I do not mean to tell any thing else.

Were they quite unbuttoned? – They were undone, that is sufficient.

Were they quite undone? – I shall not tell you.

Were they quite unbuttoned? – Which way do you mean, Sir.

You know what breeches are, were they quite unbuttoned? – Yes, Sir, they was unbuttoned, and what he had he had out.

Which way were they undone? – You knows if you please.

No, I would rather have it from you, be so kind as to describe how they were undone, was the waistband unbuttoned? – No, Sir, that was not.

Not all the time? – Yes, Sir, after he got me into the field.

Was it before you were insensible? – Yes, Sir, when he knocked me down, and when he was upon me.

Did you complain of the buttons hurting you, were there any marks? by your account, they must have been uneasy to you? – He unbuttoned his breeches when he was upon me; he knocked me down, and got upon me, and when he was upon me, he unbuttoned his breeches.

To force Hunt to go through the pains of recounting the time that she was raped,so that he could make less than insightful speculations about button marks that might or might not appear on a rape victim seems cruel and pointless. While it is conceivable that the button on a waste-band could leave marks on a rape victim, it is also quite possible that a victim could be raped while the waste-band was buttoned without receiving any bruises. This line of questioning did nothing to advance the trial, but it did fluster Hunt and force her to lose her composure, which probably reduced her credibility in the eyes of the Jurymen. It is of little wonder that few women received any sort of retribution at the hands of the Old Bailey court, if they were fluent in conversations revolving around sexual matters, they would more than likely have been dismissed as sluts, and if they were uncomfortable and lacking proficiency in sexual discourse they would have been berated and penalized for their lack of proficiency.

When asked how long it took Vaughan to drag her to the cornfield and rape her, Hunt guessed that the entire ordeal was over and done with in about thirty minutes. The night that Hunt was allegedly raped was a warm August evening, and for that reason there were many other people out wandering the streets. Immediately before the trial came to a close, the Jury put these two pieces of information together and concluded that Hunt could not have been assaulted and raped at the side of the road for thirty minutes without anyone walking by. It is worth noting that on a couple occasions throughout the trial, Hunt explicitly told the Prosecution that she thought Vaughan intended to kill her. It is difficult to judge time when one’s life is threatened and every second feels like an eternity, and it is unlikely that Hunt had time to look at her watch while she was being choked and raped. To acquit a potential rapist over what in all likelihood was an understandable miscalculation on the part of Hunt, would be a serious injustice in and of itself, however, I would argue that Hunt (along with many other women) suffered an even greater injustice. Although the Jurymen used Hunt’s minor miscalculation to justify their verdict, one would be hard pressed to deny the fact that the stream of unwarranted allegations made against Hunt’s character weighed heavily on the Jury’s final decision. Hunt, like many other women who stood before the Judge and Jurymen of the Old Bailey courthouse, was belittled, berated, and ultimately lost her court case because of her gender.

*In Vaughan’s trail, the person questioning Mary Hunt is never given a title. However, according to the Old Bailey website, it was not common for a defendant to have a defense lawyer until the nineteenth century. The Old Bailey Website also said that most cases involved a confrontation between the prosecutor, the victim, and the defendant. For these reasons, I have deduced that the man questioning Hunt is the prosecution, but I am not absolutely certain.

All quotations from the Trial Transcription are taken from the Old Bailey Sessions Papers:

Luston Vaughan 

Like Mother, Like Daughter: Sarah and Sarah Morgan Metyard

“‘Miss Salley! Miss Salley! Come up stairs, Nanny does not move…’ the mother and daughter were up stairs an hour after we were sent down.  I never saw Ann Nailor afterwards…that was the day they told us the girl had run away.”

Sarah Metyard and her daughter Sarah Morgan Metyard in  July 1762 were tried and convicted of a crime they as a pair had commit four years previously- the willful murder of their thirteen year old servant Ann Nailor by tying her up and starving her for three days.  Together Sarah and her daughter, about eighteen at the time of the crime, formed a hierarchy or power: a widow in full power over her daughter and household, a daughter in power of her mother’s servants and a young servant in ill health as the object of their cruelty.  It was Ann’s second attempt to run away that acted as the catalyst resulting in her death at the hands of her masters.  Such a trial becomes a narrative in itself as a comment on gender expectations during the 18th century.  Men were expected to be physically dominant and control their household and it creates a stark contrast with ideological customs because of the absence of male involvement in any aspect of the trial.  Women were expected and taught to submit to male authority and were thought to only act emotionally, not physically.  Sarah Metyard breaks both of these societal conventions.  Being the sole form of authority in her household she had full power and control over its inhabitants.  This alone would have been unusual, let alone the unmotivated and physically cruel actions with that which her and her daughter were charged.  Trials involving women during this period for the most part fell into a category that cited their social insecurity and desperation that motivated actions as a last resort;  a wife at the abusive hands of her husband, as an example.  However, what sets this trial apart from typical proceedings involving women during the 18th century is that Sarah’s actions were not motivated by what was referred to as emotional female flaws or desperation.  Sarah Metyard and Sarah Morgan Metyard were appropriately punished based on their actions.  Regardless of their gender they were executed because of the simple explanation that they murdered their servant.

Consequently unable to perform her duties adequately because of her health, Ann Nailor was subject to frequent brutality at the hands of both Sarah and her daughter Sarah Morgan.  Ann was deprived of her daily meals and was often beat.  Seeing no other viable option than to attempt to run away a second time, she was stopped by the milkman on her escape; pleading with him to let her go because she would be starved if she were caught.  The daughter, Sarah Morgan, seeing her attempt to escape ordered the milkman to stop her.  She was dragged by the neck inside and led to an upstairs bedroom where the mother held Ann’s head while the daughter beat her.  She was then tied to a stair post near a back room by a rope around her waist and her hands tied behind her back.  She remained as such for three consecutive days, only being released at the normal bedtime so she could sleep.  It wasn’t until the third day that we reach our opening servant testimonial, “Nanny does not move…”

All three servant testimonials stated that they believed Ann to be dead upon seeing her body only supported by the ropes around her waist.  However, it is here that the theatrical performance of the mother and daughter pair begins.  Sarah ordered drops to be given to her to revive the girl whom she claimed had simply passed out and ordered the other servants downstairs.  Realizing Ann was dead, the pair placed the body in a box in a back bedroom where it remained for two months until the odour threatened to reveal their crime.   On the evening of December 25th 1758, Sarah demanded her daughter help dismember the body and place it in separate bags to be thrown over the gully wall in Chick-lane. Burning the hands, Sarah stated “Fire told no tales”.  Sarah Morgan’s account of this preceding makes note that she wanted no part in this action and begged her mother to confess to the crime.  As rebuttal, her mother exclaimed that her uneasiness at the task was illegitimate and any attempt to reveal their crime would result in her claiming that the act was hers alone.  The only visible sign of weakness Sarah showed was her physical inability to throw the body over the wall, opting instead to throw the bags at the base of the wall in the mud in hopes it be discovered some time later as result of an ‘unfortunate accident’.  This is clearly not a typical 18th century woman that would be expected to exude no power.  Sarah showed no mental remorse or hesitation for her crime.  Clean your hands and walk away unscathed?

They hoped to do so by staging Ann’s disappearance by opening a cellar door and having a servant bring her supper only to find the door ajar.  A specific servant testimonial described Ann’s disappearance as follows: “Sall came down, and said the garret door was open, but nobody there.  Then the mother made answer, she is run away; I suppose she ran away when we were at dinner; that they both said.”  What a well-timed and pre-meditated response from our mother and daughter pair.  Sarah staged Ann’s “escape” to the other servants to end any direct questioning, thus eliminating, she thought, any possible witness accounts.  The only available information given during the trial was that the servants were not permitted upstairs upon seeing Ann immobile and were then informed later that evening that she had run away, ignoring her sickly disposition that did not permit her the energy to crawl to bed the previous night.  All servant testimonials stated they believed the girl to be dead even before the string was cut.  The mother daughter pair did not succeed in convincing their other servants of Ann’s disappearance.  Despite the authority she held over her servants, Sarah did not have the power to conceal her crime from witness testimony.

Sarah and Sarah Morgan were not products of the time, nor were they forced to take extreme action based on any unavoidable circumstance.  This trial is unique because it shows a woman in a position of power that committed actions out of cruelty, not desperation.  Ann Nailor was in a disadvantaged position based on her health and her employment as a servant under direction and lead of Sarah Metyard.  There was no other motive behind Sarah’s actions other than the fact that Ann was unable to perform her duties adequately because of her health.  Ann had tried to run away once before and her second attempt triggered her death at the hands of the mother-daughter team.  Throughout the trial Sarah and her daughter were in constant disagreement over the details of the crime and who the judge would believe was at fault.  Their discourse only fueled the true nature of their character.

Character testimonials offer an outside source of information on the daily life of the accused and their relationships with others.  The character testimonials collected on behalf of Sarah stated that many neighbours and acquaintances held no opinion for or against the woman.  No one could accept nor refute her actions; a disadvantage to Sarah being that she had no close friends that could then testify to her character. The Old Bailey’s Ordinary’s Account stated that:

It seemed doubtful on whose head the storm would break; whether on the mother, who denied the whole charge, and would represent her daughter as a monstrous false accuser and a parricide, or on the daughter, who while she accused the mother, instead of excusing herself, turned the arrows pointed at her against her own bosom; or whether the thunder would equally blast them both: their heart-burnings against each other, and their fears each for herself.

Individual testimony from Sarah and Sarah Morgan proved each was defensive about their involvement or lack thereof in the crime.  Sarah Morgan’s defense was that she was often abused by her mother and thus should not be held accountable for any actions she committed, citing that her upbringing heavily influenced her personal actions.  This approach is interesting because she does not deny her actions, but tries to validate them instead.  She brings up a debate that is still argued today; whether childhood upbringing should have any effect on future actions- nature or nurture.  I find it odd that Sarah Morgan would choose to divert her actions instead of refuting any testimonial against her.  In the face of her mother, however, maybe it was the better option to accuse Sarah as the upbringing to her abusive actions instead of denying an act that her mother would no doubt reveal.  However, her mother passionately stresses that her daughter’s accounts are lies.  The pair that together contributed to the crime was not united in their defense.  What is also interesting is that in the Ordinary’s Account there is an explicitly stated lesson at the end of what amounted as a kind of narrative tale: only through the proper teaching of manners, love and charity will children be able to grow up in an environment free from the crime of Sarah and Sarah Morgan.  Children need to be taught from an early age right from wrong and this mother and daughter pair was sad examples of the opposite.

Sarah and Sarah Morgan Metyard had no reason to kill Ann Nailor.  This particular trial is interesting because of fact that the mother daughter pair that proved themselves opposite from the 18th century mold.  Women were expected to act emotionally; Sarah and Sarah Morgan acted physically.  Women were seldom in control of their own actions, let alone their own household; Sarah had full control over her actions and those residing in her house.  Neither woman showed remorse for her actions toward the innocent servant, rather stressing their own upbringing or pure falsehood as cause for their conviction.  Sarah and her daughter Sarah Morgan were appropriately punished for their actions.  Their execution was not based on their gender or social status, but purely on their actions toward another human being.  This 18th century trial proved a link to our modern judicial system that did not favour gender or social status, but rather punished a crime solely for its actions.


All quotations are from The Proceedings of the Old Bailey: Sarah Metyard and Sarah Morgan Metyard

The Ordinary’s Account: Sarah Metyard and Sarah Morgan Metyard

A Plea For Insanity: The Sarah Allen Trial

On January 18th, 1738, a seemingly puzzled and quiet Ms. Sara Allen, surrounded by a crowd of judges, sat upon the bench of the Old Bailey Courthouse awaiting her sentence. Ms. Allen, accused of killing her newborn bastard infant, listened as the judges had read aloud their final verdict.  After a time discussing what was to be Sarah’s fate, the judges deemed that Ms. Allen, being ashamed of birthing a bastard child did, in fact, place the child within a kennel, and proceeded to throw the kennel from a height of three stories. Despite Sarah’s seemingly peculiar behaviour, the judges of the Old Bailey Courthouse dismissed all acquisitions of insanity, finding Ms. Sarah Allen guilty of infanticide. As for her sentence, the judges saw fit that Sarah be burned to death at the stake.

Sarah Allen’s narrative is the astounding story of a female criminal whom had fallen victim to an outdated, inexperienced 18th century judicial system. The case of Ms. Allen possesses a great deal of judicial negligence. In his personal accounts, the Ordinary of Newgate neglects the possibility of criminal insanity. In his defence, the Ordinary believed the accused Ms. Allen’s acted under her own will. The Ordinary based his defence on the fact that the then ill Ms. Allen seemed to recover from her sickened state, and that sometime later she repented her sins. However, the Ordinary’s details seem to be vague assumptions loosely based upon religious beliefs and common sickness. The Ordinary’s accounts are perfect examples of the religious power, and power of the social voice. My argument, here, is that Ms. Sarah Allen’s sentence ruling was influenced by a lack of judicial knowledge surrounding the idea of insanity – that she was burned at the stake for judicial negligence and the power of the eighteenth century social voice.

According to the Ordinary’s Account, this 27 year old female murderess was born unto honest parents. Her father, a well established Blacksmith, provided young Sarah with the opportunity to attain a sound education at a proper educational institution. Eleven years prior to the crime, Ms. Allen had moved from Buckinghamshire to London in pursuit of employment. While in London, Ms. Sarah Allen would find work as a servant for a number of families. Furthermore, Ms. Allen proved to be a mild mannered, honest young women. With each family, Ms. Allen gained a strong, hard working, positive reputation. While working as a servant in a public house at Westminster, the Ordinary’s Account states that, “she contracted Familiarity with a certain young Man.” As a result of this familiarity, Ms. Allen soon found out that she was with child. Once assured of the pregnancy, Ms. Allen took leave of her service duties and moved into an upper Garret located near Turnstile. It was at this location, the Ordinary Account states, “she threw the [ch]ild out of the Window, three Stories high, in the Street.” William Brumfield, the surgeon called to the scene, described the state of the child upon examination:

I found a large Bruise on the back Part of the Head, which we call the Os Occipitis. The Scull was not fractured, and the Reason it was not I think is this; that in a Subject to young, the Bones are of too fine a Texture to break. I took off the Cranium, and found a large quantity of Blood upon the Brain, which I suppose was occasioned by the Fall. There was likewise a great deal of Blood in the Belly and Breast, which proceeded from the Rupture of some Blood Vessel, and these Things were the Occasion of its Death. I try’d the Experiment of the Lungs in Water, (which I take to be very certain) and they floated; this in my Opinion, was a sure Sign that the Child had breath’d; for if it had not, they would have subsided in the Water.”

On the 6th of October, 1738, a witness to the trial, named Elizabeth Scott, claimed while on an evening walk she had come across a kennel beneath the upper window of Ms. Allens’ home. Upon a closer view of the kennel, which had been leaning against the lower level neighbours door, the witness, Elizabeth Scott, discovered the contents which occupied the inside of the kennel. Ms. Scott attested that when she moved closer to the kennel, she found within it a small, deceased infant child. Overwhelmed with such a sight, Ms Scott told the court that she then proceeded to the nearest tavern to get a “Pint of Pearl.” Upon returning to the scene, the witness, Ms. Scott, had noticed that a crowd of folk surrounded Mr. Frayer’s doorway. Once inside the home of Mr. Frayer, Ms. Scott found the accused sitting in a chair alongside the deceased infant. Shocked and infuriated, Ms. Scott approached Ms. Allen and proceeded to ask her, “How could you be so barbarous as to throw your child out of the window?” Only the repeated utterance, Ms. Scott told the court, that came from her lips was “the Lord knows! The Lord knows!”

By today’s judicial standards, such a response as “The Lord  Knows!” to any particular question would raise red flags. Furthermore, it is bizarre to think that such  an estranged answer did not raise any questions from the Ordinary of Newgate.  That in mind, one would be mistaken to claim that the Ordinary had a great deal of judicial inexperience. After all, it was in part, the Ordinary’s job to take note of any signs that may be considered unnatural. Here, however, the Ordinary, and the rest of the courtroom, passed judgement over such a statement. Apparently, they had merely deemed Ms. Allen’s response a coincidence. Further, the court decided that such a response was brought about due to an after-shock. And yet, evidence of insanity did not end with Ms. Scott’s testimony.

Upon calling Ms. Jane Raikes to the stand, the judges began questioning her relation to the accused. When questioned about Ms. Sarah Allen’s personality, Ms. Raikes answered, “she/always was a giggling, silly, empty Creature.” At this point of the trial, the court has been given accounts of Ms. Allen’s demeanour during the crime, and her personality years prior. What is interesting about Ms. Jane Raikes testimony is her choice of words. It is plausible to say that Ms. Raikes implications were innocent. Yet, in today’s court system, Ms. Raikes choice of words would raise many questions. Why would Ms. Raikes use these specific words to describe Ms. Allen? Moreover, how could the court let such an answer stand without further questioning? Of all possible responses, Ms.  Raikes chose to call her a “giggling, silly, empty Creature.” Given the previous statement from Ms. Scott, Ms. Raike peculiarity only reenforces the idea that Sarah Allen had been mentally unstable for some time prior to the murder.

As for the courts lack of interest in such a statement, the only reasonable explanation deals with social justice. That being said, much like today, 18th century social powers tended to govern within the courtroom. That is not to say that judges had a lesser power. Rather, it was the voice of the public that often had a hand in judicial court cases. Society often demanded outright justice in the event of any unlawful behaviour. As a result, trials such as Ms. Sarah Allen’s, reflected the social views of the eighteenth century. If it were so, the eighteenth century criminal motto would have gone something like, “Sick, or not! Someone must be held accountable for the crime!”

The trial of Ms. Sarah Allen seemed to operate upon a certain level of religious order. Ms. Allen herself, was a women greatly devoted to the Bible. Her acts of service shine true to a life of religious devotion. She was raised into a religious family, taught the word of Lord, and kept this sense of devotion with her all her life. However, facing charges of infanticide, Ms. Sarah Allen’s religious devotion had been unlawfully used against her. In the Ordinary’s Account, the Ordinary stresses the fact that Ms. Sarah Allen had properly repented her all the sins of her life. The Ordinary goes on to mention, “she attended constantly at Chapel, and behaved in a very humble, devout, and religious Manner.” Moreover, the Ordinary, seeing that Ms. Allen repented her sins, attended the chapel, and kept a certain level of religious manner, believed that she was fully aware of her senses. However, as mentioned above, Ms. Allen was a person of great religious devotion for many years prior to the murder. This reinstates the significance of Ms. Allen’s chant, “the Lord knows, the Lord knows!” Clearly, the only words that could tremble from her lips reflected what had been a major part of her young female life; her religious devotion towards the Lord, Jesus Christ. Therefore, the courts system of handing the debatable issues of insanity created an unfair circumstance for such criminals as Ms. Sarah Allen.

On the morning of Wednesday, January 18th, 1738, Ms. Sarah Allen was found guilty of charges laid against her relating to the death of her bastard infant child. Sadly, as a result of her actions, Ms. Allen was sentenced to burn at the stake. Her personal narrative resonates through the eyes of numerous scholars as one whom had been subject to social, political, and judicial negligence. Despite the rather convincing evidence, Ms. Allen was hastily dismissed of the possibility of being insane. Therefore, the power of eighteenth century social norms, rather than a just court system, heavily influenced the verdict. Regardless of judicial inexperience, the social norms greatly affected the status on women. As a result, the judges, along with the jury, felt as though Ms. Sarah Allen should be held fully accountable for her actions.

All information and quotes mentioned are taken for the Proceedings of the Old Bailey: Sarah Allen, Killing, Infanticide